The Hutchinson Report
The South L.A. serial murders
The first body was discovered in 1985 in a back alley in South L.A. In the years since then more bodies have been discovered. The victims had several things in common. They were mostly young. There were allegations that some of them engaged in prostitution and drug use. They were all poor or of marginal income. They were all black women. The LAPD’s investigation into their deaths soon hit a dead end, and the cases were shoved deep into the LAPD’s cold case files.
This has drawn scattered protests from the victims’ families that LAPD homicide investigators weren’t doing enough to track down the killer or killers. LAPD officials hotly dispute the charge and say that they have put countless personnel hours into tracking down leads, tips, and now DNA samples. LAPD chief William Bratton set up a special serial killer unit to nab the killer or killers. Serial killings also generally arouse public fears and anger and the more bodies that pile up cause embarrassment to city officials. Police and the FBI make catching serial killers a high priority.
Yet despite police denials of laxity in the investigation, the increased efforts to make an arrest, and the need to calm public anxiety, the real question is why some blacks loudly protest that when it comes to catching those who kill or maim black women, especially poor black women with alleged unsavory personal histories, police routinely don’t take their deaths seriously enough? The reason for their complaint isn’t hard to find.
The victims, as in South L.A., generally are not the type of women who reflexively ignite police and public outrage. And during the past decade, poor black women have been hammered by racial and gender stereotypes, criminal violence, and toss-away-the-key punitive laws.
Their grotesque treatment has had several troubling consequences. The South L.A. murders underscore the colossal risk of murder and criminal violence that more black women now face. Homicide ranks as a major cause of death for young black females. A black woman is more likely to be raped and assaulted than a white woman. The media often magnifies and sensationalizes crimes by black men against white women, and ignores or downplays crimes against black women.
There’s the drug menace. Over the years there have been well-publicized complaints that thousands of black women travelers were subject to illegal strip searches, x-ray examinations, monitored bowel movements, unlawful detentions, and targeted monitoring by drug sniffing dogs in their search for drug traffickers.
This has raised some eyebrows, and tossed the ugly light on the mounting numbers of women, especially black women, arrested for illegal drug use.
Nearly half of the women behind bars in America are there for drug-related offenses, the majority are black. Some of the suspected serial murder victims in South L.A. had arrests for drug use. They easily fit the popular public and media profile of the drugged-out, derelict black woman.
Many black women are seen as dangerous women. The police slayings of black women in Los Angeles, Riverside, California, and Chicago, Atlanta, Lima, Ohio in years past and recently and the sharp upswing in violent crimes by women, and Hollywood films that show black women as swaggering, trash talking, gun-toting, vengeful Thelma and Louise types, have escalated public fears that black women are menaces to society. The result: One in four women is now imprisoned for violent crimes, and half of them are black.
There’s also the skyrocketing imprisonment rate for black women. They are eight times likelier to be jailed than white women. For the first time in American history black women in some states are imprisoned at nearly the same rate as white men. And they are being jailed at even younger ages than ever. An American Bar Association study in 2004 found that teen girls account for more than one-quarter of the juvenile arrests, are committing more violent crimes, and are slapped back into detention centers after release faster than boys. Black girls were arrested and jailed in far greater numbers than white girls. Almost certainly many of these delinquent teen girls will jam America’s prisons as women. Even with the flutter of media attention on the South L.A. murders, police officials are no closer than ever to nabbing the killer, or identifying a suspect(s).
This is no knock at LAPD homicide investigators and LAPD officials. They take these murders and the hunt for the killer or killers very seriously. This is more than simple professionalism for them. It’s also due to the very compelling need to stop further carnage and allay public concerns over personal safety.
An apprehension, and hopefully a speedy one now that public attention is refocused on the killings, will bring some measure of closure to the grieving families of the victims. Equally important, it would help dispel the deep suspicion that when the victims are poor, black and female, their lives are cheap, and expendable.
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).
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